During the past year the Institute has added considerably to its Museum, and has been enabled to forward several botanical, zoological, and geological specimens to kindred Institutes and Societies in New Zealand and the neighbouring colonies. No great progress has yet been made in the way of acclimatization, beyond the introduction of a few hares and pheasants, which have been placed on Mr. Harris's run at the Kokatahi, and are progressing favourably. Mr. Patrick Comiskey, though not a member of the Institute, read an interesting paper at a meeting held on the 21st October, on the subject of “Water supply for the purpose of working large tracts of auriferous ground.” On the 22nd of June, Captain Turnbull, Chief Harbour Master of Westland, read a paper throwing some light on the question of the wreck recently discovered at the Haast, and illustrating the action of the ocean currents on the west shores of New Zealand.
In accordance with my promise to this Society, made some time ago, I now undertake to endeavour to show how the currents from the Eastern Coast of Australia have been traced to our shores, that is to the West Coast of the Middle Island, and more especially that portion of the Coast situated south of Hokitika.
In the year 1866 a piece of wreck was found in the bush about 300 feet above high-water mark, on the eastern bank of the Tauperikaka River, about three miles south of Arnott Point. The discoverers of this piece of wreck reported that the vessel to which it belonged had been diagonally built, and fastened with screw trenails. Some portion of the wreck was cut off, and along with the screw trenails and metal fastenings was sent to Hokitika, and upon such portions being examined many suppositions were raised as to its identity, such as the probability of its being a portion of La Perouse's missing vessels or some missing whaler, and other speculations as wide of the mark. The Maoris of the coast were not lost sight of; they were interrogated but without success, and all remained a mystery until the early part of last year when some large pieces of the wreck were, at the request of Mr. Mueller, cut from the other remaining portion and forwarded to Hokitika, and a portion of them was sent to Wellington to Dr. Hector, for the Colonial Museum. In the meantime, I had interviewed an old whaler, now residing at Hokitika, named Thomas Shannon, who had been on this coast as far back as 1840-41 sealing; and from him I found that he was in
the vicinity of the Tauperikaka in 1841, and that he neither heard nor saw anything of such a wreck. The party to which he belonged was made up of old whalers and Jacob River Maoris. Several of those men had been on the coast for many years, and were all ignorant of such a wreck. He thinks that had any member of their party been aware of the existence of such an object of interest, he must have heard of it, and, as circumstances brought the party to this particular part of the coast during the season of 1841, he thinks that it would not have escaped his observation; but it may not be uninteresting to quote here in full his narrative, as it was taken down by me and forwarded to his Honor the Superintendent of Westland (then in Wellington). He says his name is Thomas Shannon, and that he is fifty years of age, and that he sailed from London in the barque “Speculation,” Captain Robinson, on a sealing voyage to Desolation or Kerguelan Land; but, owing to the loss of their tender at Saldanha Bay (West Coast of Africa), the voyage was abandoned and they proceeded to Sydney, and thence to the Bay of Islands, where refitting, they proceeded to Auckland. Islands and then south above the Antarctic Circle, where, meeting with severe weather, they had to return north to Bluff Habour to refit, having been in company far south with Commander D'Urville, and also with the American Survey expedition, under the command, as far as he can recollect, of Captain Keller. Leaving the “Speculation” at the Bluff, he joined a whaling party at Jacob River, under Captain Howell, and the following season, 1841-42, proceeded to the West Coast of this Island on a sealing expedition in open boats. That season, he says, their operations extended as far as the Blue River, three miles north of Arnott Point, sealing, and at the same time looking for a tribe of Maoris to chastise them for killing and eating a boat's crew the previous season, whilst on a sealing voyage from Jacob River. At that time there were several Maori villages on the coast from Jackson Head to the Bruce Bay of the present day; but, as the inhabitants were then cannibals, the Jacob River Maoris would hold no intercourse with them. On the approach of the sealers they took to the bush, and the only satisfaction they had was burning the villages. Nothing was known of any wreck on this part of the coast, nor was there any sign at the Blue River or at Arnott Point of any wreek, but on their return south, after passing Milford Sound, they came across several pieces of cedar logs showing evidences of fire, or that a vessel had been burnt at sea with a cargo of cedar wood on board. The timber was strewn on parts of the coast from a little south of Milford Sound, up south as far as Windsor Point, south-east corner of Preservation Inlet. No portion of any wrecked vessel was seen or heard of except one in Facile Harbour (Dusky Sound), the date of the loss of which vessel seems uncertain, and in fact, is unknown,
as no particulars of her loss were current among the sealers, except that she was a teak built ship, and that portions of the skeletons of her crew were found and buried upon Green Island (Facile Harbour), and were supposed from the smallness of their stature to be Lascars. No name of the vessel, or further information relative to her loss, was known on the coast. Thomas Shannon is of opinion that the pieces of wreck brought up to this port from the Haast, are a portion of a Netherland built vessel, and as to her construction, he assures me that during the early time he was on the coast of New Zealand, he never heard of or saw any vessel of the same construction as the one after which inquiries have been made. I may state that in 1866–67 there was a portion of a ship's figure-head laying in the bush about seven miles south of the position of the wreck, and near to an old camping-ground or village of the Maoris on the south side of the Waita River, but which, I have been told, was since burned by the people who followed the rushes in the Haast district; the figure-head was a representation of a woman, but it had been much disfigured.
Meanwhile the piece of wreck forwarded to Wellington has been examined by several nautical men, amongst whom were Commander Edwin, R.N., Captain Johnstone (Marine Board), Captain M'Lean, s.s. “Otago,” Captain M'Intyre, and several others. The last-named gentleman started the idea that it much resembled and corresponded with the construction of the “Schomberg,” of Liverpool, wrecked on Moonlight Head, South Coast of Australia, in November, 1854. A piece of the same was forwarded to Captain M'Lean, s.s. “Otago,” taken by that gentleman to Melbourne, and examined by several gentlemen, amongst whom was the Inspector of Telegraphs for Victoria, who had seen the remains of the “Schomberg” only recently in the vicinity of Cape Otway. That gentleman at once pronounced it to be a portion of the wreckage at the Otway, and to be in as good preservation as any part he had seen. Captain M'Lean at once sent the piece home to Britain to the builders of the “Schomberg,” Messrs. Hall, of Aberdeen, asking them their opinion as to its identity with the vessel in question, but no answer has yet been received. While this inquiry was going on at Wellington and Melbourne, I fortunately came across Mr. Andrew Murray's able treatise on “Ancient and Modern Shipbuilding,” published in 1861, and that gentleman in his work gives a detailed account of the construction of the “Schomberg,” and, in explanation of the diagrams showing the fastenings, he points out the fact that the Messrs. Hall, of Aberdeen, were the first to use screw trenails in the fastenings of ships, and, upon a close comparison, I find that the thickness of planks, the position in which they are placed to each other, and, lastly, the fastenings, correspond exactly with what we find in the piece of wreck
mentioned before, and from all the evidence which we have laid before us, I am of opinion that the portion of wreck in question is none other than a piece of the hull of the wrecked ship “Schomberg.”
Supposing this to be the case, the question then arises, how did it reach our shores? There can be but one answer, that is this, the currents of the ocean brought it to us. And by which route did it come? Did it come down to the southward of the West Coast of Tasmania, or did it come to the eastward, through Bass Straits, and thence down to the eastward of Tasmania, and reach the coast of New Zealand?
I am inclined to think the latter course is the true one, because, in the first place, from the position of the wreck on the coast of Australia, near Moonlight Head, the currents are found to set along to the eastward round Cape Otway, and thence to the eastward through Bass Straits, and then to the open ocean of the Pacific, there meeting the great Australian current setting down the coast to the south and east of our shores.
In proof of the actual existence of this current setting south, I have examined the logs of several vessels from Melbourne to this port, and find that in moderate, variable weather and winds, the currents set to the east of south in accordance with the amount of wind. Thus in one case a vessel was set 13.6 miles per day during a passage of eleven days from Banks Straits to the West Coast; another vessel was set 14.5 miles per day during a passage of ten days; whilst another, which experienced heavy weather from the N.E. to N.W. showed a drift of 21 miles per day. In fact, I have not, as yet, found an instance of vessels meeting a set to the N.E. and N. in the middle passage, and I have no doubt that during stormy N. and N.W. weather the current will be found setting with a much greater velocity. I should mention here that Thomas Shannon has referred to having seen cedar logs on the coast south of Milford Sound, and extending as far up as Windsor Point. I am not aware that cedar is found in Tasmania or New Zealand, and as neither of these colonies produces such timber, the only conclusion must be that the cedar came from New South Wales, and that the great Australian current was the power by which it was carried to the shores of the Middle Island, and that the same current carried to our shores the piece of wreck in question, which was found amongst the scrub near Arnott Point.
It may be asked how the wreck came to be found so far inland and amongst the small timber. I am of opinion that during a heavy gale from the N.W., the water of the ocean is forced up on our coast, and rises to a much higher level than usual, instances of which have come under notice. At Hokitika, on the 4th of August, 1874, when a heavy sea from the N.W. and a high tide occurred at the same time, the whole of the west side of
Revell-street was flooded, and I am informed by Mr. Marks, a resident for several years at the Haast, that at that date (the 4th August) the sea forced itself as far inland as the position of the wreck, although that was the only time in five years he had seen such a sea on the coast. As to the actual time the piece of wreck reached New Zealand shores, or when it left the scene of disaster to the “Schomberg,” nothing definite can be arrived at, but from Moonlight Head to the point at which it was found, the distance, by the route by which it is supposed it came, is approximately 1,200 miles, and taking an average of the drift of the three vessel's logs, which is only an approximation the daily drift would be (16.4 miles), and the lone voyage would be accomplished in seventy-three days nearly.
By the kindness of Mr. Mueller, Chief Surveyor of the Province, I am enabled to further illustrate by map the action of the ocean currents in the direction already mentioned. On this map the set of the various currents between Australia and this coast are clearly shown, and I have also sketched out the course taken by the schooner “Sarah and Mary” on her last trip from Melbourne, as defined by the ship's log during a thick and rough passage of eleven days, here showing by a line marked black where the vessel should have been according to the ship's reckoning, and where, by the line marked red, the ship was when the land was first sighted off this coast.
In conclusion, I may be allowed to say that, in presenting this paper to the Institute, I do so with no pretensions to its possessing any literary or scientific merit, but as a humble endeavour in a somewhat rough, nautical way to throw such additional light on the subject of ocean currents, in connection with the discovery of the wreck referred to, as my daily avocation and recent enquiries have thus enabled me to do.